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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Judge: Murder suspect's statements can be used as evidence

Judge: Murder suspect's statements can be used as evidence

A 2013 double homicide suspect's police statements can be used as evidence in his trial, despite a forensic psychologist's testimony that he is mentally handicapped, a Thibodaux judge ruled last Thursday.

Traveyon Blackledge, 21, of Thibodaux, is charged with second-degree murder in the shootings of Nikki Landry, 41, of Larose, and Harry Lefort, 54, of Cut Off.

Their bodies were found Sept. 22, 2013, in Landry's apartment.

Blackledge's father, Toronzo Thompkins, 37, of Raceland, is accused of ordering his son and Jerrard Major Sr., 37, of Raceland, to kill Landry. She was a confidential informant set to testify in his cocaine distribution trial.

Capt. Chad Shelby of the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office testified Thursday that Blackledge first implicated Major as the sole gunman, but that statement didn't match the evidence from the scene.

Shelby said when questioned about the inconsistencies, Blackledge said Major shot Landry and told him to shoot Lefort, which he did because he was afraid Major would kill him. Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet suggested changing his story was a sign of comprehension and intelligence.

Dr. Marc Zimmerman, a Baton Rouge forensic psychologist who evaluated Blackledge in September 2014, testified that the defendant got nine of 10 geometric figures correct when copying them. But when drawing from memory, he got only one correct.

"He can't hold these in his mind long enough to reproduce them," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said Blackledge's IQ is 49, indicating an intellectual disability, and all his scores on one test were within a child's range. He reads at a first-grade level, and his sentence comprehension is even lower.

"Basically, he can't read," Zimmerman said. "It's not just reading it. It's how it's read."

Zimmerman said it's common for people with intellectual disabilities to say and do what they think will please others, especially authority figures. Therefore, he said, Blackledge may have waived his Miranda rights without really knowing what he was doing.

"I can't say positively that he didn't understand it, but there's a high probability that he did not," he said.
Patience Blackledge, Traveyon's mother, said her son didn't walk at the age he was supposed to. He was later found to have a learning disability and ADHD and was placed in special education.

Blackledge repeated kindergarten and first grade, his mother said, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and approved for Supplemental Security Income at age 11.

Dr. Rafael Salcedo. a forensic psychologist from Gretna, testified that he saw no signs of bipolar disorder or ADHD when he evaluated Blackledge in January. There was no mention of an intellectual disability in the defendant's records except for the one doctor who said it was "possible," he added.

In Salcedo's evaluation, Blackledge showed an IQ of 40 – nine points lower than in Zimmerman's exam. Whereas most people score 48 to 49 out of 50 in a visual recognition test, Blackledge scored 16.

Salcedo said a blind person would have a 50-50 chance of getting questions right, so Blackledge would have had to purposely choose the wrong image to score less than 25.

"You'd have to know the right one and deliberately pick the wrong one, and that's what he was trying to do," he said.

He noted that in his police statements, Blackledge correctly used words like avoid, persuade and affidavit without detectives first saying them to him. He also said Blackledge and Thompkins had a phone conversation in code, using the word lawyer to mean hit man.

"This is someone who's supposed to be moderately mentally retarded?" Salcedo said. "It doesn't fit."
Salcedo said he believes Blackledge is dyslexic, not mentally handicapped, as he had reading problems but average scores in math in elementary school and junior high. Blackledge's New Iberia attorney, Lynden Burton, pointed out that none of his client's school records mention dyslexia.

Judge Walter Lanier ultimately chose to believe Salcedo over Zimmerman. Blackledge is now set for trial July 19.

Thompkins is serving a life sentence after being convicted of cocaine distribution despite Landry's death. His trial on the murder charges is also set for July 19, while Major's trial has not yet been scheduled.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.